March 25, 2009 > Downtown Fremont?
The City of Fremont has moved one step closer toward development of a consolidated downtown area designated as the "Central Business District" (CBD). On Tuesday, March 10, the council was asked to consider a Planning Commission recommendation to approve a project to be located on vacant land bounded by Walnut Ave., California St., Beacon Ave. and bisected by an extension of State St. proposed as a "Civic Park." Council unanimously approved the plan with minor modifications.
This action comes over seven years after a Central Business District Concept Plan was approved by the Fremont City Council in November 2001. At that time, a 20-year process was outlined to define distinct sub-districts that would surround a traditional downtown called the "Focus Area." Boundaries of the CBD are bounded by Fremont Blvd., Paseo Padre Parkway, Mowry Ave. and Walnut Ave. The heart of downtown was envisioned to be Capitol Ave. with an extension to Fremont Blvd.
A plan by Urban Housing Group for the project area is a third iteration of a year 2000 approval of approximately 220,088 square feet (sf) of commercial office space and a net increase of 74 units from previous proposals. Initially, an extension of State St. to Walnut Ave. was to be designed for vehicular traffic. That has now been replaced by abandonment by the city of the property in exchange for a 17,000 sf "turn key" Civic Park "to encourage pedestrian activity within the development as well as the city as a whole." Amenities are expected to include a movie screen, water features, benches, tables and lights. Also, 1,200 sf of office/commercial space can be converted to live/work space if desired.
The project consists of two four-story buildings with an internal 7-level garage structure within one of them. Initially, the proposal envisions 301 rental dwelling units that would be sold as condominiums in the future and approximately 1,200 sf of office/commercial space. Fremont requires a total of 513 parking spaces for a project of this size and composition: 352 the residential units plus an additional 151 for guests and up to 10 additional parking spaces for live/work units. The developer proposed 502 spaces in its parking structure including 14 for motorcycles and 100 bicycle spaces. Using current municipal codes, this mix is equivalent to 514 spaces. Parking is not provided for retail/office spaces although staff suggests that an additional 31 on-street spaces within public right-of-ways is available on surrounding streets.
Staff analysis of the project indicated that the primary goals of the CBD - a memorable downtown, mix of land uses, streetscape improvements, amenities for pedestrians and strategically-placed public and private parking - would be enhanced by this project. Although reservations about filling in prime commercial/office CBD property with residential units and a "sketchy concept plan" were expressed by Vice Mayor Natarajan, staff insisted that the primary goal was rooftops (residential) to support a "spine" of commercial development along Capitol Avenue.
Opponents to the project cite planned "give-aways" of public land for an apartment development and narrowing Beacon Ave. as inappropriate. The small amount of commercial space and lack of parking for office/commercial development is questioned as well as a "Civic Park" gathering place to watch movies and revel next to an apartment complex.
Mayor Wasserman summed up planning concerns in the Central Business District when he commented, "This is the second project we have approved in what we call CBD. It concerns me that we are going to give away all the land before we decide what we are going to do with it. I think that it is a mistake and we should not continue in that direction. Let's get a plan so we are not stepping on our toes every time we look at something new." He further noted that although the plan before the council is "a fine plan in of itself," other projects down the road should conform to a firm plan of action.